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Championships should be decided on the track

Martin Williamson November 29, 2012
Why taint the memories of a brilliant afternoon of sport? © Sutton Images

As Sebastian Vettel rejoiced on Sunday afternoon and millions of viewers across the world caught their breath after watching on the most pulsating season finales of all time, it was a chance for Formula One fans to celebrate all that is good about a sport that too often seems hell bent on self-harming.

Today's news that Vettel's achievement might - just might - be overturned because of a possible appeal lodged days after the event served as a stark reminder of F1's ability to make itself ridiculous and unloveable.

From Crashgate to the farce of Indianapolis in 2005 to Ferrari deliberately spoiling Felipe Massa's gearbox to give Fernando Alonso a better chance of success in Austin, Formula One manages to come across as slightly tawdry, slightly tarnished and .. well .. grubby.

On Sunday it was F1 at its best. Two hours of drama, action and brilliance. As the news of a possible Ferrari appeal grew from internet chat to something more substantial, it was F1 at its worst.

The moment any result is settled by suits behind closed doors it loses much of what it is about, and that's why F1 is almost unique in major sports in its history of doing just that. However unjust it might seem, fans at events or on TV have a right to leave knowing what they have just watched is not going to be turned on its head on appeal. This is about technical appeals, and not the discovery of deliberate cheating as in the examples of Lance Armstrong or Ben Johnson.

Ferrari diehards have been up in arms about the "yellow-flag overtake" from the moment it happened; by the time the race ended we had already had dozens of emails demanding Vettel be punished.

The stewards at Interlagos took the standard 90 minutes to sign off the race, confirming the result. In the past officials have been accused of unnecessary delays in announcing their decisions, so much so that on occasions teams and drivers have been informed of them hours after they left the circuit. This time with the world watching and pressure on to rule a line under proceedings, were they too hasty? Damned if they do …

The FIA and Formula One are now left hoping this all goes away without being escalated. Nobody other than Ferrari and its most partisan supporters stands to gain anything from the season being reopened and Vettel's championship being put on hold, regardless of what the eventual outcome is.

If there was an appeal, even if the original result was upheld the very fact that again the sport ended up being decided in a Parisian room would further dent its already tarnished image.